Thursday, October 30, 2008


Dear Spike:

You're a girl after my own heart.

You can't stand to see your mother leave for work in the morning, so usually we try to distract you with books, games or food while she slips out the back door.

But this morning, nothing worked.

"Mama mama mama," you cried.

I made you an omelette. "Eggs?" I asked.

"No no no," you sobbed. "Mama mama mama!"

I brought you to the cat. "Coltrane?" I asked.

"No no no," you screamed. "Mama mama mama!"

I took you to your bookshelf. "Books?" I asked.

"No no no," you wailed. "Mama mama mama!"

I gave up and walked you around the house, patting your back and telling you that she would be home soon. Still, you seemed unconsolable.

"Mama mama mama! Mama mama mama! Mama mama mama!"

"Mama mama mama! Mama mama mama! Mama mama mama!"

"Mama mama mama! Mama mama mama! Mama mama mama!"

Then we walked into our bedroom, past the television and a stack of DVDs.

"Mama mama mama...



... MASH?"

"MASH? You want to watch MASH?"


You're a girl after my own heart.


Monday, October 27, 2008


Dear Spike:

Since you're still quite small for your age, next month we're taking you in to see a nutritionist. This week, a letter came in the mail explaining what we should expect during our visit — including a meeting with a social worker.

Your mother was aghast. "A social worker! Do they think we're bad parents?"

I did my best to reassure her they no one thought that. But, in a way, I hope that someone suspects it's at least a possibility. I don't mind proving I'm fit to be your dad.

Sometimes I wish more proof was required of us all.

The other day you and I were coming back from a stroll in the park when something caught my eye.

The little girl was sitting on a bus stop bench, watching the cars fly by on 900 South. The man behind her was leaning up against a tree, rocking back and forth and mumbling to himself. We walked by slowly, then stopped about a half block away and watched for a bit longer.

The girl was eight, maybe nine, and decked out in a blue and red cheerleading costume, probably for a school Halloween party. The man was in his 40s. He was hunched over a gray canvas bag, sorting through some papers.

I wasn't even sure they were together. But after a few minutes, the girl walked over, set her hand on the man's shoulder, and whispered something in his ear. He waved her away, and she returned to the bus stop bench.

It probably shouldn't have taken me as long as it did, but I finally pulled the mobile phone from my pocket and called the number for the city's police dispatcher. "Listen," I said. "I don't know what is going on, but it just doesn't look right. That guy's in no position to be looking after a little girl."

A few minutes later an officer drove by. After a while, he was joined by another. It was striking to me how calm the little girl looked as a third, then a fourth officer arrived — as though she'd been through all of this before.

The officers helped the man to his feet, then watched as he took the little girl by the hand and stumbled away.

"That's it?" I asked one of the policemen.

"He told us that he's having a bad reaction to a flu shot," one of them said.

"Yeah, those things can really screw you up," another added.

I'm sure there's something legal to be said here for "probable cause" and "reason to search," but it seemed to me that the officers were taking a rather cavalier attitude to the situation. Maybe they, like the little girl, had simply seen it all before.

The man and the girl walked to the end of the block and rounded the corner, up our street. I lifted you into my arms and followed. When I turned the corner, I saw the man was sitting on the ground. The little girl was standing next to him, trying to help him up. I beckoned for the officers to come see. When they approached the man again, he got up and started to walk away. I suppose that's what tipped the scales for them. Soon he was back on the ground and they were going through his bag.

A few moments later, the man was in handcuffs in the back of a patrol car, and one of the officers was emptying the remaining contents of a large vodka bottle into a bush. The little girl was picked up by a relative. And they all watched together as her father was carted away to jail.

I used to believe that parents were in the best position to make decisions for their children, but I've long since opened my eyes to a darker reality.

Maybe it was the brother-sister pair I met, a few years back, who found their mother dead of a heroin overdose. The little girl had run downstairs to find help as the little boy — just five years old — pulled a needle from his mother's arm and banged furiously on her chest. He was still there, on top of her lifeless body, when the police arrived. "You promised!" he was screaming, over and over. "You promised you would stop!"

Maybe it is the stories your mother comes home with, day after day after day, from the inner-city school where she works. The little girl with the gang markings, stenciled in permanent black marker on her legs. The little boy who complains that there is no food at home, but whose parents can't seem to get him to school on time for a free breakfast there. The little girl, all of five years old, who comes to school dressed like a whore and tells the other girls to "walk more sexy." The little boy who falls asleep on his desk, exhausted because his parents refuse to put him to bed at night.

And then, as if that's all not enough, a reminder on our street of the sheer inability of some parents to make good decisions for their children: A dad, far too drunk to look after himself, being looked after by his young daughter.

There are, of course, plenty of parents who make good decisions for their children, every day — parents who feed them right and treat them right and keep them out of harm's way, insomuch as any parent is capable of doing such things.

But these days, when I hear folks saying the government should get out of the way of parents who just want to raise their kids as they see fit, I wonder where they think we should draw the line.

For the record, I don't know where the line should be drawn, either. I've always thought I was a fan of getting the government out of people's lives, but lately, in my more cynical moments, I've begun to wonder if we shouldn't be licensing people to raise children.

There is a happy medium between those two extremes, I guess, but I'm quite sure we've not found it yet.

I suppose that parenting is both a blessing and a right — I only wish we'd all treat it more like the former than the latter.


Friday, October 24, 2008


Dear Spike:

Today you conquered the big green slide at the park.

Tomorrow, Mount Everest?


Wednesday, October 22, 2008


Dear Spike:

Of course, you weren't the first kid on this planet. But ever since your arrival, it sure seems as though a lot of the people we know have gotten into the parenting game.

We figure it's just because they saw how cool you are and wanted to have one of their own (although it's possible that basic human reproductive impulses had something to do with it, too.)

Among the most recent additions to this wildly spinning world:

On Tuesday, we learned that your mother's friend Shanda is having a baby boy.

Yesterday, my friend Hank told me he was having his 11th kid... um, yeah, it's sort of a Utah thing.

And today we got photos of your cousin, Stas (rhymes with "wash," unless you're from the Midwest, in which case it rhymes with "squash.")

He's a cute kid. Kind of gooey, but definitely cute.

Be a good friend.


Tuesday, October 14, 2008


Dear Spike:

If I could bequeath to you one thing that I, myself, do not possess, it would be patience.

It will come in handy, should you ever decide to make an insurance claim, cash in a warranty, register a car or pay your taxes.

I guess the best advice I can give you for the long, long hours you will no doubt be spending in bureaucratic purgatory is to try to always keep a sense of humor about things.

Things could always be worse — even if it might not seem that way at the time.


Monday, October 13, 2008


Dear Spike:

Sometimes you'll look at your partner and swim with feelings of love.

Sometimes you'll feel something else...

Spike's mom: Have you ever felt like smothering me?

Spike's dad: Um, no.

Spike's mom: Oh, that's good.

There's an obvious follow-up question I could have asked her. But I didn't. I'd rather not know.


Friday, October 10, 2008


Dear Spike:

We went to the new soccer stadium in Sandy last night. It was going to be a cold night, so you and I stopped by the costume store to pick up a warm outfit -- a lion, in honor of the home team, Real Salt Lake.

Super cute, really.

My plan was to parade you around the stadium at halftime, but we never got that far.

Seems all the excitement was just too much for you. About 10 minutes into the game, you got sick. Luckily, the team had given away free commemorative towels at the beginning of the game, so we had something to mop you up with.

Unfortunately, the lion costume didn't survive the onslaught of upchuck. And although we had a change of clothes for you in our backpack, it wasn't likely to keep you warm through the rest of the game.

And so, not more than 15 minutes into the inaugural game at Rio Tinto Stadium — with plenty of folks still on their way in — we headed home.

On the way out, your mother asked if I was disappointed. I'm not sure she believed me when I told her I wasn't, but that was the truth.

There was a time in my life when soccer was everything. But these days, my little lion, it's not even close.


Wednesday, October 8, 2008


Dear Spike:

Your mother and I sat down for dinner tonight. Nothing gourmet. Far from it in fact: we had salisbury steaks, tomatoes, peas and poutine.

The latter dish is a Canadian fast food staple consisting of french fries, cheese curds or mozzarella and gravy. I think the word "poutine" might mean "coronary" in French, but I'm not sure.

Before digging in, your mother considered the menu and asked: "Since we're eating Canadian tonight, does that give us foreign policy experience?"

I recognize that, by the time you're old enough to read this letter, this joke will have no relevance to you.

But tonight, it was damn funny.


Tuesday, October 7, 2008


Dear Spike:

It all kind of happened in slow motion.

You were sitting on the playground, minding your own business, running your fingers through the tanbark near the base of the slide. All of the sudden, a boy about a year your senior grabbed a handful of bark and, point blank, threw it in your face.

Maybe I'm a bad father, but I didn't really do anything.

It's not that I didn't want to. Every basal impulse in my body was telling me to march right up to that little punk, grab him by his Gymboree jacket collar, and toss his smug little mug into the mud. And that impulse was even stronger after his mother, who watched the whole thing unfold just as I did, sauntered over to let me know that her little pookey "probably didn't mean to hurt your daughter."

So your kid's not savage, just stupid? I should throw you into the mud too, lady.

Luckily for all of us, you were none the worse for the wear. A little stunned, maybe, and with a mouth full of playground nastiness, but not in any sort of pain, so far as I could tell.

I suppose I could have jumped into the fray — I could have swept you up from the spot where you were playing next to that cruddy little kid and whisked you away. I could have run you over to the park restrooms to wash out your mouth and wash off your face and hair, which had little pieces of bark dust stuck in it. I could have packed you back into your stroller and headed home for a bath and a change of clothes.

Maybe any of those things would have been the right thing to do. But I didn't do any of those things.

Instead, I sat back and watched as you looked dumbfounded at the boy and then, quite calmly, went back to digging your fingers into the dirt.

I'm not sure, but I think that was an OK outcome. You took a lump and kept on going — and, at least in a very small way, figured out how to handle the situation on your own, without daddy sweeping in for the rescue.

Someday, I imagine, you're going to need me to sweep in and do what big, angry men do — to thump my chest and pull you away from danger and right the wrongs and generally take care of business.

But most of the time, you're going to need to be your own hero — to remove yourself from danger, to right the wrongs that can be righted, and to generally take care of your own business. Or, when appropriate, to just turn the other cheek as you did today.

Sometimes, I think, you know better than I do. Thank goodness for that.


Saturday, October 4, 2008


Dear Spike:

I love it when you sing. 



Thursday, October 2, 2008


Dear Spike:

We come together one...

We come together all...

And when we come together...

We do the Beaver Call! 

You attended your first Oregon State football game this evening. It didn't end as we'd hoped (if you're going to be a Beaver Believer, that's something you might just have to get used to.) Still, you definitely had a good time.

You cheered. You shook an orange and black pompom. You ate ice cream. And when it was all said and done, you walked out of the stadium with your head held high...

... and then promptly fell asleep on your mother's shoulder.